Journal of Logic, Language and Information

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 249–267 | Cite as

On the Origin of Ambiguity in Efficient Communication

  • Jordi FortunyEmail author
  • Bernat Corominas-Murtra


This article studies the emergence of ambiguity in communication through the concept of logical irreversibility and within the framework of Shannon’s information theory. This leads us to a precise and general expression of the intuition behind Zipf’s vocabulary balance in terms of a symmetry equation between the complexities of the coding and the decoding processes that imposes an unavoidable amount of logical uncertainty in natural communication. Accordingly, the emergence of irreversible computations is required if the complexities of the coding and the decoding processes are balanced in a symmetric scenario, which means that the emergence of ambiguous codes is a necessary condition for natural communication to succeed.


Ambiguity Logical (ir)reversibility Communicative efficiency Shannon’s entropy 



We would like to thank the members of the Centre de Lingüística Teòrica that attended the course on ambiguity for postgraduate students we taught within the PhD program on cognitive science and language (fall semester, 2010). We are especially grateful to M. Teresa Espinal for many interesting discussions during the elaboration process of this study and to Adriana Fasanella, Carlos Rubio, Francesc-Josep Torres and Ricard Solé for carefully reading a first version of this article and providing us with multiple improvements. We also wish to express our gratitude to two anonymous reviewers for several remarks that helped us to clarify and strengthen our developments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Catalan Philology, Facultat de FilologiaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Section for Science of Complex SystemsMedical University of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.ICREA-Complex Systems LabUniversitat Pompeu FabraBarcelonaSpain

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